A waterfall flows at McCullough Gulch in Colorado on Aug. 5, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak)

A waterfall flows at McCullough Gulch in Colorado on Aug. 5, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak)

Out of the Office: Best-laid plans

The plan was for the family to meet in Colorado to try and summit one of the state’s famous 14ers, or mountains that rise higher than 14,000 feet above sea level.

The coronavirus pandemic stopped us in 2020 and again in 2021, but for entirely different reasons.

2020 was a common refrain. The novel coronavirus started sweeping across the country in earnest in March, triggering lockdowns and general mayhem, and nobody in the family felt comfortable making plans to be in Colorado in the summer.

2021 was a more subtle stanza. Everybody in on the trip, excluding my sister’s under-12 sons, had been vaccinated by spring. The green light was given to book a Vrbo in Breckenridge for early August to attempt a 14er. Thanks to the year delay, the trip would also provide an opportunity to go out to dinner for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

In the months leading to the vacation, group texts were sent detailing various trails in the Breckenridge area, including the one up 14,265-foot Quandary Peak. Gear lists for such a venture were shared and purchases were ticked off, with my brother being particularly proud of his first aid kit and shelter that used two trekking poles as tent poles.

We got to Breckenridge and felt things out, doing short trails around town to adjust to the 9,600-foot elevation.

“When are you going to do the 14er?” my mom asked in the way that only moms can. “That’s the whole reason we did this trip, so you could do a 14er.”

We’d arrived on a Sunday. We were leaving Saturday. Thursday. Thursday was the day we’d do the 14er.

Or not.

At some point in wandering around the idyllic mountain community, sharing big family meals, playing cards deep into the night, and unburdening and sharing the professional and personal stresses of the pandemic, we came to a collective, unstated thought.

It was kind of ridiculous that it had taken the potential conquest of a mountain to gather us here as a family in this wonderful setting. In our short time remaining, we’d focus on family, not summit.

The closest we got Quandary Peak was McCullough Gulch, a trail running into a mountain valley dotted with alpine lakes and a wonderful series of waterfalls just north of Quandary. As an Alaska hiker of 24 years, I was more than impressed with this area.

And my brother even got to bring his tent and first aid kit.

With COVID-19 cases ticking up in the Breckenridge area and my sister’s kids still unvaccinated, we didn’t even end up going out to dinner for my parents’ anniversary, settling instead for pizza at the Vrbo.

Nobody cared. Family was enough. It only took a pandemic to fully realize it.

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